Hopping on board the Amtrak train in the grey of dusk, I noted with a short moment of appreciation the many African-American faces among the throngs groggily filing towards the boarding escalator. Here an aged couple escort each other affectionately down the platform. At a subsequent station, a young woman travels alone, her head wrapped in a scarf. She wants to keep hair hairstyle fresh for all the parties, events, and of course the parade on Monday that will commemorate President Obama’s swearing in.
Many news stories in recent days have questioned how important this second inauguration is for African-Americans, who may have become accustomed to the idea of what before 2008 might have been inconceivable: the first black president. Yet, if the high percentage of blacks on the train this morning is any indication, for many the second time around is just as momentous for the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama.
Steve Kerrigan, President and CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) spoke to theGrio about why this inaugural is still important for blacks.
While he acknowledged that second inaugurations are typically smaller affairs, “I think as Americans we should be just as excited about this inauguration as the first,” Kerrigan stated in a phone interview.
“[I]t’s really this president’s focus on service as a tribute to Dr. King that has made this inauguration so special,” he continued. “It’s building on the commitment [President Obama] made in 2009 to make the inauguration not just about the celebration of the president, but also a celebration of our country and the rich diversity of our country.”
In addition to the fact that the public swearing in is taking place on Dr. King’s holiday, the PIC has included remembrances of black history and today’s black culture in the weekend’s festivities. African-American marching bands and military squads will be a prominent part of Inauguration Day.
“In our parade alone we have a tribute float to Dr. King, we have a float dedicated to the Tuskegee airmen, which actually will have a model Red Tail plane on the float, and also a float dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement that features images representing the historic struggles of many of the civil rights movements,” Kerrigan added about the celebration. “Those are big focuses of our inaugural parade.”
The PIC head also reminded us that President Obama intends to use Bibles belonging to both President Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King for his public swearing in, in obeisance to the figures who paved the way for all African-Americans to enjoy freedom today.
“I don’t think there’s a better way to explain the poignancy and importance of this than to talk about the Bibles,” the committee lead explained about Obama’s plans for taking the oath of office. “On the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the great emancipator’s Bible will be placed on top of the traveling Bible of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the first African-American president of the United States will take the oath of Office, connecting those two great historic figures, not only to [each other], but to all of us through that one simple act of reciting those words.”
For President Obama, reciting his promise to uphold the Constitution using the Bibles of these two great men will be as much an act of humility as one of pledging commitment to the American people.